Russia to mark five years since Crimea annexation

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Soldiers, believed to be Russian, ride on military armoured personnel carriers on a road near the Crimean port city of Sevastopol March 10, 2014. (REUTERS)
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Woman attends an opposition rally in Moscow, Russia 17 March 2019.
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An opposition supporter attends a rally in support of economic changes and to mark the fifth anniversary of Crimea annexation, in Moscow, Russia March 17, 2019. (REUTERS)
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People gather near a monument to the so-called "polite people" or the Russian servicemen, who enhanced security during a referendum before Russia's annexation of Crimea, during celebrations of its fifth anniversary of the annexation in Simferopol, Crimea March 15, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 March 2019

Russia to mark five years since Crimea annexation

  • The March 2014 referendum, held by Crimean authorities, was not recognized internationally

MOSCOW: Russia on Monday will mark the fifth anniversary of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, condemned by the West but celebrated by most Russians.
President Vladimir Putin will take part in celebrations in the Black Sea peninsula, where he is also due to launch a new power station, the Kremlin said.
Moscow’s 2014 takeover of Crimea was denounced by Kiev and the West as an annexation and led to sanctions against Russia, but it resulted in a major boost of Putin’s popularity at the time.
In Russia, March 18 has been officially proclaimed as the “Day of Crimea’s Reunification with Russia.”
In Moscow, city authorities have thrown a street festival called “Crimean Spring” that hosts jazz concerts, cooking workshops and a photography exhibition a stone’s throw from the Kremlin.
Up to 10,000 people are expected to take part in a flash mob in the Moscow region Monday, dancing to the Soviet-era song “Waltz of Sevastopol” — the Crimean city home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Hundreds are expected to participate in another flash mob recreating the Russian flag in the Crimean seaside resort Yalta.

“For us, the question of Crimea is decided forever,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said several days before the anniversary.
“This is because its reunification with Russia was the result of the free will of the peninsula’s people in a referendum,” she added.
The March 2014 referendum, held by Crimean authorities, was not recognized internationally.
Putin signed a treaty with representatives from Crimea to make it part of Russia two days after the unrecognized vote, on March 18 2014.
Ukraine and much of the international community condemned the move as a violation of international law.
Last week, the United States, Canada and the European Union slapped new sanctions on more than a dozen Russian officials and businesses in response to Moscow’s “continued aggression in Ukraine.”
But Putin, whose approval ratings soared after Moscow took over Crimea, has repeatedly rejected any prospect of returning the peninsula to Ukraine.
“What, have you gone mad?” he told a journalist who asked him if there were any circumstances under which he would be ready to give up Crimea in a documentary aired last year.
“There are no such circumstances and never will be.”

“All these five years there has been an atmosphere of both open and hidden terror against the people of Crimea and international law,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told AFP.
The Crimean Tatars, a Muslim-majority community that is largely opposed to the annexation, have faced pressure from Russian authorities.
Russia has banned the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatars’ elected assembly which resisted Russian rule, denouncing it as extremist.
“Crimea was taken away from the Crimeans, their homeland was taken away from them,” Klimkin said.
Ukraine “feels pain for this every day” and that “the international community will never recognize” the annexation, he said.
But surveys show Russians are less enthusiastic about Crimea being under Moscow’s rule than they were five years ago.
According to a survey published by the Center for Public Opinion (FOM) in early March, only 39 percent of Russians believe the annexation brought Russia more good than harm, compared to 67 percent in 2014.

US lawsuit against Qatari emir’s brother to be re-filed in Massachusetts court

Updated 28 January 2020

US lawsuit against Qatari emir’s brother to be re-filed in Massachusetts court

  • The move was intended to force Sheikh Khaled, who had been avoiding being served, to acknowledge and accept legal service
  • Two former contractors alleged they were denied wages and threatened by Sheikh Khaled after they refused his orders to kill two people

The attorney for two former contractors suing Sheikh Khaled Al-Thani, the brother of the Emir of Qatar, has asked a Florida Federal Court judge to dismiss their lawsuit so they can re-file the claims before a different Federal court in Massachusetts.

The former contractors alleged they were denied wages and threatened by Sheikh Khaled after they refused his orders to kill two people. The original lawsuit had Sheikh Khaled as the principle defendant but on Nov. 5, 2019 it was expanded to include race car company Al-Anabi Racing USA LLC, which Sheikh Khaled owns.

The move was intended to force Sheikh Khaled, who had been avoiding being served, to acknowledge and accept legal service.

Failing to serve a defendant or a defendant’s business assets can result in the lawsuit being thrown out by a judge in the American judicial system.

The expansion of the lawsuit worked. After ignoring the lawsuit for more than seven months, lawyers for both Sheikh Khaled and Al-Anabi Racing USA LLC, filed responses. They asked the Federal Court on Jan. 2 this year to dismiss the Pittard/Allende lawsuit, arguing Florida lacked Federal jurisdiction over the case.

According to Bloomberg Markets, Al-Anabi Racing USA LLC, is based in Duxbury, Massachusetts, although it has an office in Florida.

“After the Pittard case complaint was amended, several individuals bravely stepped forward to share their stories and experiences with the defendants in the Pittard case,” said Rebecca Castaneda, the attorney for security professional Matthew Pittard and paramedic Matthew Allende, who are seeking $33 million in damages.

“In light of the information that they have provided, and the new plaintiffs’ claims and causes of actions against the defendants and others, we have requested that the Pittard case be dismissed from the Middle District of Florida.

“The cases of Matthew Pittard and Matthew Allende will be supplemented with additional legal claims and information that has been obtained and re-filed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the District of Massachusetts.”

Sheikh Khaled’s attorney, Alejandro Soto, of the Florida law firm Fridman Fels and Soto, PLLC, argued in their motion to dismiss in January that Sheikh Khaled had no legal presence in Florida and that Florida’s Federal courts had no jurisdiction over his actions.

“While the amended complaint invokes Florida law, it otherwise fails to allege any facts supporting Sheikh Khaled’s contacts with the state,” Soto said in his Jan. 2 dismissal demand.

“By all accounts — including plaintiffs’— Sheikh Khaled is a citizen of the state of Qatar whose domicile and primary residence — both during the time period alleged in the amended complaint and now — have always been in Qatar.

“Moreover, the amended complaint does not allege a single fact suggesting that any of the alleged conduct giving rise to this case occurred in or arose from Sheikh Khaled’s contacts with Florida. Indeed, the only alleged connection that Florida has with this case is plaintiff Matthew Pittard’s alleged residence in it.”

Attorneys for Al-Anabi Racing LLC, Armando Rosquete and Javier A. Reyes of the Bell Rosquete Reyes Esteban, PLLC law firm, argued that Sheikh Khaled was not employed by Al-Anabi Racing USA LLC and claimed Florida lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

“Contrary to this settled jurisdictional jurisprudence, plaintiffs failed to plead any facts to establish personal jurisdiction or even provide a factual framework under which this court could analyse personal jurisdiction,” Reyes and Rosquete said in their Jan. 2 dismissal demand.

“Indeed, other than an unsupported conclusory allegation in a single paragraph, plaintiffs include no jurisdictional facts that connect Al-Anabi to Florida. Plaintiffs do not allege that they were injured in Florida, nor do they allege any facts regarding Al-Anabi’s contacts with the state.

“The amended complaint is devoid of facts that could — even when analysed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs — show that the purported injury or other conduct alleged even occurred in Florida,” Reyes and Rosquete added.

Attorneys Reyes, Rosquete and Soto all failed to respond to repeated inquiries for comment on their dismissal filings.

Pittard and Allende alleged in the lawsuit, originally filed on July 23, 2019 before Federal Judge Thomas P. Barber, that Sheikh Khaled ordered them to kill two individuals who posted negative and embarrassing comments about the sheikh on social media.

According to Castaneda, Sheikh Khaled ordered the killing of a Los Angeles-based drug dealer who was trying to blackmail the sheikh with claims he had compromising photos and videos of the sheikh.

“We don’t know the veracity of the drug dealer’s claims, but the sheikh took them seriously and he wanted Pittard and Allende to kill the blackmailer,” Castaneda said.

In another case, Castaneda said Sheikh Khaled allegedly ordered the two security contractors to murder a Moroccan woman who was a friend of the sheikh’s wife. Castaneda said Sheikh Khaled feared the woman was feeding embarrassing information about him to a Saudi national at a time when his brother, Emir Al-Thani, and Qatar were in an international row with Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries.

Pittard and Allende allege they were threatened at gunpoint by an angry Sheikh Khaled when they refused his orders in September 2017 to murder the two individuals he suspected had sullied his social reputation. The lawsuit claims Sheikh Khaled's threats against Pittard and Allende continued to escalate.